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Photo Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Who could be in the Oilers’ bottom six?

The Oilers are heading into an offseason where it is clear that massive changes are needed. They need to add an impact forward, or two, into their top six and even if they can do that, they’re going to be relying on some breakout or bounce-back performances from certain players in their bottom six if they want to compete for a playoff spot.

There are a few problems in the way of the Oilers search to improve their forward group this summer and one of them is a very crowded and expensive bottom six.

There are certain players who the team, and fans, would no doubt love to blast into the sun and some players who they would probably love to have back but may not be able to afford. It’s a complicated matter and while it may seem like a small issue to a team that currently does not have a General Manager, I decided to look into the current situation surrounding the Oilers depth forwards.

THE RETURNEES

Mar 11, 2019; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers forward Zack Kassian (44) celebrates a first period goal by defensemen Matt Benning (83) against the New York Rangers at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

MILAN LUCIC: Barring some type of miracle this summer, the Oilers will be welcoming Milan Lucic and his albatross contract to training camp in September. He will be given slotted somewhere into the teams bottom six and will no doubt have a spot on the team assuming he isn’t dealt. Is there a chance he bounces back? Maybe. Would I say it’s likely? Nope.

ZACK KASSIAN: This is an interesting case. Depending on what the Oilers do this summer, Kassian could be depended on to step into the top six and produce with McDavid and Draisaitl like he did at the end of the season. There’s also a good chance that they bring in a skilled winger or two and Kassian gets pushed to the third or fourth line.

SAM GAGNER: Gagner produced fairly well in Edmonton last year. Five goals and five assists in 25 games is nothing to scoff at. Part of me thinks the Oilers could buy him out (easy way to save $2 million against the cap) but there’s a part of me that thinks they value his veteran leadership and versatility. If he stays, he’ll be on the third line, potentially as a centre.

KYLE BRODZIAK: I really wish he was signed to a one year deal, but that’s not the case. There isn’t a trade market for him and while they could send him to the minors without much of a penalty against the cap, I think they’ll keep him around but it might be as the 13th forward.

COLBY CAVE: After scoring five points in 20 games with the Bruins, the Oilers claimed the 24-year-old centre off of waivers. While he only notched three points in 33 games in Edmonton, I actually didn’t mind what he brought to the lineup. He has some decent speed, mixes things up physically, and he makes league minimum which is important for an organization that will be right up against the cap. He’s still fairly young, so I think there’s a reason to believe he can be the team’s fourth line centre next season.

THE FREE AGENTS

Mar 23, 2019; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers right winger Alex Chiasson (39) celebrates after scorin a against the Ottawa Senators goalie during the first period at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Walter Tychnowicz-USA TODAY Sports

ALEX CHIASSON: It will be interesting how the Oilers and Chiasson handle his impending free agency. Will he chase the biggest paycheck possible? Or will he recognize that he’s a good fit here and will he go for more term? If I’m the Oilers, I would entice him with a three year deal with a low cap-hit, something less than $1.5 million. That might be a pipe dream, but if that happened, the Oilers would have a solid, inexpensive middle-six option.

JUJHAR KHAIRA: 154 games into his NHL career, we know what Khaira is. A big body who can inject some toughness and a little offence into the Oilers bottom six. He has the ability to score ten goals, if he’s with a skilled centre he might be able to reach 15. If the Oilers can get him back for around $1 million, I think he would fit in nicely.

JESSE PULJUJARVI: If he isn’t traded, then he will be offered a new contract and will be back in Edmonton next season. He is no longer waiver exempt, so that means the Oilers cannot send him straight down to Bakersfield as they have during the past few seasons. If he isn’t traded, which I think is very likely, then he will be on the team and he will be on either the third or fourth line.

TY RATTIE/TOBIAS RIEDER: I’ll be quick with this point. Neither of these players will be in the organization next season. Rieder didn’t score then got infamously called out by Bob Nicholson, no way they offer him a deal. After starting on McDavid’s wing, Rattie was being sat as a healthy scratch and buried on the fourth line. He’s done here as well.

COMING UP

As you can tell, if all three of the free agents I mentioned above are brought back, then the Oilers will have 11 forwards under contract for next season. Assuming they bring in an outside addition or two, it will be rather tough for a player to make the jump from Bakersfield to the big club on a full-time basis.

Say they buyout Gagner, trade Puljujarvi, or Chiasson doesn’t resign, then there are some very interesting candidates on the farm to slide up to the NHL.

Joe Gambardella and Josh Currie were both in Edmonton for solid stints and each one produced fairly well for a few games. They would both be available to come back at league minimum as well. That combined with the fact that they proved they are at least competitive NHLers bodes well for them.

Then there are AHL rookies Tyler Benson and Cooper Marody. Given how plugged up the bottom six is, I think we’ll see both of these guys head right back to Bakersfield next season. Out of the two, I think there’s a better chance that we see Marody crack the team right out of camp. Kailer Yamamoto will probably start there unless he goes on an absolute heater through the preseason in which case he would be in the Oilers top six.

The point being, the Oilers bottom six is very crowded and I also expect the Oilers to move out a few bodies to allow room for some outside additions and a chance for someone from Bakersfield to crack the team as an inexpensive bottom-six winger.

THE OUTSIDE MARKET

Speaking of the outside market, I’m not going to spend too much time on it, but after a quick glance, I was able to find four names that interested me. Some might be more expensive options, while some might be league minimum or PTO candidates.

Brandon Tanev (WPG): The Jets are entering a summer that will really test their ability to stay under the cap. I wonder if Tanev might be a cap casualty. He had 29 points this past season and could bring some speed to the Oilers third line. Might cost around $2 million though.

Joonas Donskoi (SJS): He’s had three 30 point seasons in San Jose and one very impressive playoff run a few years ago. This year, he’s being healthy scratched in the playoffs. Like Tanev, he might be a little expensive, but I think he could make an impact on the Oilers.

Magnus Paajarvi (OTT): Forget about his past in Edmonton. If the Oilers can get their hands on a reliable bottom six forward who can score at least ten goals a season and also kill penalties, they should be all over that. Paajarvi should only cost around $1 million as well.

Brandon Pirri (VGK): He’s been up and down from the minors this season, but when he’s been in the NHL he’s scored goals. 11 in 30 games to be exact. He’s in the lineup right now for the playoffs and I would imagine Vegas will push to bring him back. The Oilers could offer him a chance to be McDavid’s speedy, skilled, scoring winger. I view him as a more proven Ty Rattie, who just needs consistency.

There are other names out there, but that provides a good glimpse of what could be open in the free agent market if the Oilers either move on from Sam Gagner or Kyle Brodziak or decide not to resign Jujhar Khaira or Alex Chiasson.

The Oilers bottom six seems to be a bit of a logjam right now, but I don’t think that means we won’t see a few fresh faces in the lineup when the puck drops next October. They need to find ways to build a bottom six that can help them win games, which is not something they got in 2018-19.

  • GK1980

    Bottom Six Qualities:
    Strong on face offs, hard working, defense first. That is all. If they Oilers could have an average bottom 6 this season they would make the playoffs but unfortunately there was absolutely no offensive help from the 3rd and 4th lines. They were brutal all year. I really thought Reider and Brodziak would help more then they did.

    • McHitch

      We need a reliable backup goalie. We need Mrazek. We cannot go into the season without a 1/1A combo.

      Drai, McDavid, Nuge, Nurse all had career years and we still didnt make it in. I blame Talbot for most of the teams struggles these past two years.

      Just look at the stats, he was terrible and half the time he started the team was deflated after the first shot.

      #1 on the list. Create a competitive goalie situation.

  • I’ve also been looking over the bottom six free agents that are coming up on other teams to see who might end up in the Oilers bottom six. If the Oilers can land Donskoi, Pirri, and/or Tanev, I’m all for it. Good article.

      • OilerForLife

        I think Donskoi could provide secondary scoring. They won’t be resigning Rieder or Rattie, then they could promote somebody from Bakersfield who is on an entry level deal, and sign Donskoi being that San Jose is close to the cap as well. That should provide two upgrades to our forwards.

  • Gravis82

    a competent GM can fill out the bottom 6 through free agency and minor trades over a few years. Real problem is we need three top 6 wingers asap and about 65 more goals as a team…within 3 years. And a goalie. Our D is actually fine..ish.

  • Spydyr

    The teams biggest need is stability in goal. A goalie the team can trust. The second biggest need is a top pairing defenceman and finally at least two top six wingers.

    I cannot see this all happening in one summer.

    • Ratt McNuge

      I place near equal importance on all those things with stability in goal being slightly ahead of the other two. This team has no depth anywhere on the ice. They are a team that is so top heavy that the ice cream has fallen off the cone.

    • Gravis82

      It will take 5 years to draft what we need. We should be at year 3 right now if we kept all picks and drafted smart in 2015 and 2016. I mean, we even lost draft picks for signing Chiarelli and MacLellan correct? In one of the deepest drafts in history? This organization deserves itself. Fans have shown incredible patience, but I think that has come to an end this year.

    • Serious Gord

      The Winnipeg jest have never seen that since the days of Bobby Hull. The flyers not since Pelle Lindbergh got a load on and got himself killed.

      There is no guarantee that the oil are going to get a goalie good enough to win a cup any tim

  • Ratt McNuge

    No idea how they fix this team without getting rid of half those players you listed as returnees. Lucic must go. Kassian can stay. Cave and Brodziak must go. Sign Chiasson to a value deal.

  • What the

    Lucic will be back – because we have no choice.

    Brodziak will be under contract. His play will determine if he is in the line up.

    They should bring back Puljujarvi to see what they have post surgery, Gagner and Chiasson.

    There’s our bottom six with Kaisian and Chiasson possibly playing up, Brodziak possibly playing down, and Gambarddella, Currie, and Marody pushing up.

    • Gravis82

      every team has a bad contract. Lucic is ours. We cannot afford another. There is no room for anyone to be overpaid. We need more underpaid players in fact. Teams dont trade underpaid players, we have to be smart and draft and sign them on our own. Whoever is overpaid must go now and cap space must be protected.

      • Arfguy

        That’s the problem I find with the Oilers. Despite not having enough scoring, they keep looking to players that have proven they cannot score. I don’t know why Lucic kept getting chances on the wing with RNH, but that’s just the mentality the Oilers employ. “We pay the player big money, so they are the only fit on the top 6”. Unbelievable.

    • Elgando

      I have a sneaky feeling KGretz gets a deal done for Lucic at the draft… Package a 3rd and a prospect, take back a body you can buy out, and retain some salary… I think it’s possible.

  • Serious Gord

    Am I right that Lucic+Kassian+gagner = 11.5 million on cap hit next season?

    If so the remaining three in the bottom six are going to have to come extremely cheap.

    • hagar

      We talked about this situation like three years ago Gord. Takes a long time for some people to catch up.. just like the obc always having always been the problem. Straight tin foil hat talking until people finally realize just how incompetent of people we have here.

      • hagar

        It simply doesn’t work this way.
        You are supposed to take your number one or top five pick, and assuming a year or two previous picking top 15, you take another year or two top ten or 15, then you have a team.
        The problem is that team is built on entry level talent staggered over like 5 years tops and is easy to predict.
        Everything is so out of sorts here, we have already blown the entry levels of every single player save for one year of McDavid.

        I will say it a millionth time..
        This is all on the people that have been here as the only unchanged factor the entire time.
        Faxs

  • RJ

    Doesn’t this all depend upon who is the GM and the coach?

    Chia has many poor qualities, including his inability to negotiate value contracts and his inability to win a trade.

    Let’s assume that the new GM can win an occasional trade, and negotiate at least one or two value contracts.

    Let’s also assume that at least one rookie makes it into the bottom six.

    I could see half of the bottom six leaving, with Khaira being my pick to stay for sure. I’d also look at JP returning as well as Lucic (because no one wants him).

    Who are the top RHCs available? PKers? Top players from Bakersfield who are destined for bottom six duties?

  • camdog

    This Connor needing skilled wingers talk is wrong. He has Leon. The other winger needs to win board battles, play physical, be able to skate and play sound defensively. Nothing worse than Connor spending entire shifts in his own end. If that’s not Kassian, it’s another player that plays like him.

    • hagar

      It is kassian. Kassian can easily go into a 30 goal a year player if everything stays together and the rest of thevl team can be sorted independently.
      He was a goal scoring stud before draft, and was like seventh overall or something.
      He is sure as hell the fastest physical tough guy I have ever seen recently.

      • Wesley41

        So Kassian is 28,been in the league for 9 season,and his best season was 15/14=29 in 74 games and he can now easily get 30 goals.Connor and Leon aren’t so much better then the Sedins were that his numbers will go supernova like that.We do this every year,he at best might be a 20/20 guy playing with them on top line all year!last year/start of this season Rattie was suppose to be that guy right? We can’t have unrealistic expectations no matter how good Connor is Zach has shown us what he is and I like him but he is too old to become the next John Leclair doing nothing in Montreal until he got traded to Philadelphia and became a 40-50 goal guy playing with Lindros because he was younger than Zach at the time of his turn around!

        • hagar

          I think so yes. His struggles from prodigy in the sport till we got him are well documented. I think he got something crazy like 130 points in his final year of junior.
          Lots of dman come into prime at 28… he is a big physical guy that might have taken longer, especially with drunk driving cars in crashes, and being hooked on various life calming things can slow progress.

          • Wesley41

            Junior numbers don’t mean anything this far into a career,lots of guys shot the lights out in junior and the minors.Kassian is a 3-4 line guy period he will not get more goals in one season then his best point total even with Connor all season!

        • camdog

          Skilled guys that can’t win puck battles are useless for Connor. Rattie being the prime example. Pat Maroon /Kassian type players work better than a 6 million dollar skilled winger. Connor can’t be stopped when he gets into offensive zone. Last year teams defended Connor by cycling the puck in our end of the ice for his entire shift.

        • crabman

          @hagar, use the damn internet and look up facts before spewing nonsense. All Kassian’s stats are out there to find in seconds. non of this, “goal scoring stud before his draft.” or went, “seventh overall or something”. or the equally rediculous, “130 points in his final junior year.”
          Kassian had 24 goals his draft year and just 26 goals in his draft+2 season, the most in any year of his carrer at any level past midget. He was never a goal scoring stud. he was drafted 13th overall and was traded after just 27 games in the NHL. And his best season he ever had again happened in his draft+2 season when he had 77 points not 130. Facts matter.

        • Arfguy

          I agree with you, Wesley. We do pin too much hope on players. Sorry, but as much as I like Kassian and he’s been one of the better moves by Chiarelli (WTF?), he should not be counted upon to be the 1st line RW option. I personally think it should be Puljujarvi, if the new coach will actually keep him up there. JP should be a value contract this upcoming year if he isn’t traded. Honestly, I watch other teams and it is obvious that the grinding-checking type hockey is the preferred type of hockey for current management. If the Oilers want to succeed, they need to let their skilled players play with skill, rather than adapt to the type of game that the Oilers want to play. I do not believe JP is washed up, but MacLellan and Hitchcock are not the types of coach to succeed with young skilled players.

          I sincerely hope the Oilers can find a competent GM and a coach willing to adapt to the current NHL. I could be completely wrong about JP, but I think after 3 years of being treated like a burden, it’s time to give JP an honest shot at the top 6.

    • Well said Camdog, also having a a guy that doesn’t mind sending a message physically is needed on Conner’s line. This team is built for the game being played in the playoffs. Totally different than the regular season the way the refs are calling the game.

  • RJ

    Here’s a simple truth from following this team since Gretzky played for them:

    Every single off-season since the Fall for Hall, fans and commentators talk about what should be done to improve the team.

    Let’s face facts: in nine seasons, Kassian has scored in double digits 3/9 seasons, with his best coming this season (15). Would Kassian be playing for any of the playoff teams as a 1RW? I don’t think so. Is a guy with a career best of 29 points (in 2013/2014) your best option for top line minutes? 2RW?

    Not if they want to make a leap. I read all of last season how Rattie was the best option for 1RW and we saw how well that went.

    The only untouchables are McD and Drai, and Nuge in 2C, unless there is some phenomenal trade opportunity (which is highly unlikely). Anyone else should be moveable. Top-six, bottom-six.

    If anything, I’d rather see Benson (LW) and Drai (RW) next season, if Benson is lights out in the pre-season.

        • Wesley41

          Well I’m not as worried about the forwards as I am the defence.I agree more with Gregor that is a bigger problem to me.They need 1 for sure but 2 would be ideal,that can make a first pass and not panic in their own zone even when they are not being pressured and give the puck away or chip off the boards and basically give puck away just outside the blue line!

          • hagar

            And where are the slappers from the point? Booby kicks called out the 15 goals missing from toby, but how about the 30 or 40 more per year that another teams competent dman contribute over ours?

  • madjam

    Well here is the bottom 6 – Jesse , Jujhar , Milan , Gagner , Chiasson and Zach . AHL Condors has several others close to filling a position temporarily at least . Now that might be a reasonable bottom 6 , but that just leaves Connor , Leon and Hopkins to be top 6 . Just where are the other top 6 ( 3 to be exact ) coming from ? Doubt any on AHL good enough to handle that yet .

  • Kevwan

    The key to the bottom 6 is a decent 3 C. If Cave, Brodziak and or Khaira are the 3 and 4 C’s that’s not enough offense. Khaira has shown flashes but he’s not consistent. Gagner can’t keep up with todays C’s – he’s a winger.

    Sign Derek Broussard

  • Dark Knight Returns

    Khaira, Gagner, Chiasson, Rieder, Cave, Rattie…. dog barf. How do you compare those to the bottom six of any team in the playoffs?
    You simply can’t. They need to be gone.

  • Arfguy

    Honestly, we need players that can win faceoffs and can skate. I thought for sure Brodziak would add something positive to the line-up seeing as the Oilers had a lot of faith in him when they brought him in, but next year…I’d be fine with Brodziak being a 13th forward. I’ll take any one of Cooper Marody, Josh Currie, Joseph Gambardella, etc. The Oilers do not have enough forwards that can skate. I was so tired of watching a bunch of lumbering players who have very little skill or imagination just skate up the ice and dump it from the centre line.

  • TKB2677

    The Oilers need to go out and find a few guys like Chiasson who can come in and contribute on the cheap. I don’t expect them to score 20 goals but if you can get 10 goals for 1 mill or less, I think you can do that.

    For guys returning:
    Baring a miracle, Lucic will be there. I would have Cave as the 4th line center. He was 52.5% and makes 675K. Khaira I would have back for under 1 mill. Between he and Lucic, there are your 3rd/4th line wingers. I don’t mind Gagner not a huge fan of the contract number but he was shockingly at 51.65% on faceoffs. Maybe you keep him as your 3rd line center. I would love it if they could do what the Caps did with Orpik last year. Trade him, then sign him for cheap. Put some speed on his wing.

  • TKB2677

    On one hand, there is a price you can’t go past when it comes to Chiasson. He had one amazing season so he deserves a real nice raise but you can’t pay him as if that is what he will do every year. There is nothing that says he can’t duplicate it but his resume says there is a better chance he will go back to being a 12-13 goal, 25+ pt guy. I am not knocking that because the Oilers did not have enough of those guys either. But at the same time, he had 22 goals, 38 pts. You can’t just let guys with that kind of potential production leave. Strome got off to a bad start offensively, Chia decided he was smarter than everyone else and dump him. Strome went on to score 18 goals with the Rangers and ended up with 19 goals, 35 pts for the year. Chia went even dumber and dumped Caggulia for a guy that can’t play in the NHL. Caggulia has flaws in his game but he ended up with 12 goals, 23 pts. Last year he had 13 goals, 30 pts. So looks like he’s a low teens in goal guy. So you have to be careful with Chiasson.

  • ROILYDoGG$

    First dump money. Russel, I liked his play this year but too much money for us going forward. Need youth.$4.00
    Manning dump for anything or anyone that will take him. $2.25
    Reider -RFA gone
    Brodziak- trade to young team for a draft pick. $1.2
    Petrovic- RFA rights,trade for a draft pick
    That frees up 7.45 million for a UFA and to resign players. Not including Rieders $2.00 mill off the books.

    Bring Rattie back for another try on Nuges RH side, with almost identical stats to Pirri but 2 years younger. You can’t play either of these players on the 4th line and expect them to succeed. Which is what TMac and Hitch did.

    Chassion yes for under 1.5

    Dri McD kass
    UFA Nuge Rattie
    KHAIRA Gagne Pulj
    Lucic Cave Chassion

    Sign a scorer or elite power forward to slot in with Nuge with the
    Marody might make the Cut also. Fill in for injuries.
    One of my biggest issues was the proper deployment of players by the coaches, putting them in positions to fail. For example when the injuries happened they brought up jones,
    Gravel was fine on D yet they made stupid trades to bring in guys worse then him.